How many beggars are there is namma Bangalore ? No, not a few thousands, but the entire population of the city — some six-odd million, at last count. Including you and me.
Wondering if you read that right ? Yep. After following the latest media reports on the infamous beggars home and the responses from our city administrators, we all seem to have been reduced to the status of beggars — begging for attention to our problems, begging to have our voices heard, begging for some accountability in public servants, and begging for some shred of ethical – moral considerations in dealing with public issues or taking decisions about the city’s facilities
The details hardly need reiterating — there exists a "beggars colony" . Originally known as Nirashritara Parihara Kendra— a very nice appellation, that translates as a "centre for assistance to those who are helpless." It was subsequently called Destitutes Rehabilitation Centre, but now referred to as beggars colony, despite the fact that not all inmates are beggars, some are mentally challenged, others ill with various diseases, including infectious ones like leprosy.
Last year, the "colony" hit the headlines with a large number of deaths, following which a lot of horrifying details got unearthed — that the inmates were not fed properly, there was no proper monitoring of healthcare, and that a lot of corruption was eating up the money allocated for the maintenance of the "centre".
The Mysore Maharaja had donated this land, for a facility for destitutes, and now the state government and its limbs — BDA, BWSSB, the metro rail corporation BMRCL — are trying to grab those acres for putting up a convention centre, a commercial complex and a "star hotel". Not only has the administration not learnt a lesson from last year’s expose about the sorry state of affairs at this "facility" (if ever there was an euphemism, this is it !) it is actually trying to go further and grab 90 per cent of the land, like wolves pouncing on a hapless prey (as one account puts it succinctly)
As I write, there has been a similar (if smaller) expose by the BBC, about unsatisfactory services at a nursing centre for differently-abled people (slow learners, physically challenged etc) near Bristol.
I watched the film that caught the unacceptable treatment of inmates (scolding them, hitting them, slapping them for uncooperative behaviour) on camera . Every single TV channel has immediately picked up the story and raised loud protests, the newspapers have also splashed the findings in detail and the government has had to sit up and take immediate note, and initiate measures to address the issue.
No slick excuses, no side-stepping the issue, no promises to "look into it". Which is why I began by saying that we, the citizens of the city, have all been reduced to beggary , if not sitting by the roadside for coins, certainly in the sense of being ignored, our voices of protest and censure left unheard. A beggar is someone who is at the mercy of those who dole out succour. So are we, in terms of getting the clean administration that we as citizens and taxpayers are entitled to.
In this 21st century, and in a city boasting about being "world class", if the decision-makers heading public corporations are behaving like predatory wolves slavering over land, what kind of "modernity" do we call it ? There have been a few voices raised in protest , but so far, no sign that these are being heard (much less heeded or respected.) There also exists, from last year, a report from the State Human Rights Commission, focusing on the need to clean up the ‘facility’ and improve its functioning. How much more noise is necessary, to get official attention ?
The BDA commissioner is reported to have clarified that calling for Expressions of Interest (EoI) does not mean the land has been sold for commercial purposes. Oh yeah? So calling for EoI is just a time-passing exercise, perhaps, to keep our bureaucrats and administrators on their toes ? Are we supposed to raise our protests AFTER the construction of a commercial complex or convention centre is begun ? Ah, that reminds me — one group of residents that complained to the authorities about the congestion created by Mantri Mall, got the retort from the official, "What were you doing, when the mall was sanctioned ? You should have raised your objections at that time, now what is the point?"
That is how the administration works — keep the sanctioned plans under wraps, sanction anything, even against the rules as long as – ahem – some builder-contractor has ‘connection’ or palm grease — and then declare a fait accompli……and to hell with people’s convenience, rights , priorities or preferences.